PAUSD needs an independent public investigation of bullying and student civil rights Schools & Kids, posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:12 am Ken Dauber is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Along with many Palo Alto residents, I was disappointed to learn last week that the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) found that PAUSD violated the civil rights of a disabled child by failing to protect the student from disability-based bullying and harassment. The troubling facts of this case as found by federal investigators, are that a disabled child was repeatedly physically and verbally assaulted and district staff did not effectively intervene to stop the bullying, despite the family's persistent complaints.
We Can Do Better Palo Alto has for the last several years advocated for progress on the issues that are raised by this case: student social and emotional health, student civil rights, site-based control, and transparency in governance. At last Tuesday's school board meeting I and several other parent leaders and members of We Can Do Better Palo Alto called for an independent, impartial investigation into how this happened. We believe this step is critical to restoring public confidence in our school leadership.
So far, the school board has responded only by expressing regret, and by scheduling a closed meeting next Tuesday afternoon to discuss this case with the superintendent. The public will not be able to attend.
This week, another previously undisclosed resolution agreement between OCR and PAUSD has come to light, this one from October. Once again, the Superintendent communicated the agreement to Board members only after press inquiries last week, in a letter to the board dated February 14. The October case concerns failure to comply with requirements for 504 accommodations for disabled students.
A post to the We Can Do Better Facebook page puts this in national context: Web Link
As that post details, OCR very rarely finds against a district as it has with PAUSD. In only 1% of similar complaints over the past 4 years has such a finding been made. According to OCR data, PAUSD is one of only 15 public school districts in the country over the last 4 years found by OCR to have violated federal civil rights law for disability based harassment. OCR reports that of the 1513 complaints received over that period, only 240 required any OCR involvement. Of those, 119 were resolved through an Early Complaint Resolution process that was offered to PAUSD but not accepted by PAUSD, and another 87 were settled after an investigation began but before a finding of noncompliance, an opportunity also rejected by PAUSD. The remaining handful of cases, including PAUSD, settled only after the investigation concluded with a determination that federal civil rights law had been violated. Most of these are poor or rural districts.
Why did PAUSD choose not to resolve the case earlier? That decision has likely exposed the district to significant financial liability, as well as delaying help for the disabled victim of bullying who is at the center of the case. Unfortunately the board did not have chance to weigh in on this decision before a finding of noncompliance with the law.
At last week's board meeting, Dr. Skelly stated that he did not inform the board because he was "embarrassed" by the finding. He then stated in a February 14 letter to school board members that he "did not see the significance of the resolution agreement being signed" because such agreements were new to him. (See Web Link).
Dr. Skelly does have some prior experience with bullying cases and civil rights violations, however, as he was Associate Superintendent in Poway when that district lost a landmark civil rights bullying harassment case, Donovan v. Poway Unified (see Web Link). That case was the first case ever to hold a school liable under the California Education Code for failing to protect students from peer harassment (in that case based on sexual orientation), in part because of a failure by district officials to ensure that schools followed the district's complaint procedures. In that case, the plaintiffs received three quarters of a million dollars in damages and attorney's fees, due to the fact that the district failed to intervene despite repeated complaints -- a fact pattern similar to the OCR findings in its PAUSD investigation. Indeed, the Poway precedent will probably figure in any future litigation against PAUSD under state anti-discrimination law.
PAUSD currently has 6 board polices (1312.1, 1312.3, 5121, 5415.3, 5415.7 and 5415.9) and 3 sets of administrative regulations (1312.1, 1312.3, and 5415.7) that cover the bullying case investigated by OCR, yet according to OCR none of these were implemented by staff. The district has a designated Coordinator for Nondiscrimination under one of these policies (BP 5145.3) and a designated Compliance Officer under another (AR 1312.3) [both of whom are Associate Superintendent Charles Young] yet neither of these policies was enforced.
Accountability and progress depend on a full, fair, and transparent understanding of what happened so that we can take steps to make sure that it doesn't happen again. I have no doubt that all of the district staff involved care deeply about bullying and students' civil rights. That fact only underscores the need to understand how these mistakes could have been made. We will renew our request for a full, impartial and independent investigation of this situation at the next school board meeting, on Tuesday evening. Hopefully the school board will agree with us that transparency and accountability require an honest reporting of the facts.
Posted by Concerned parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 7:22 am
What? whoever hire Skelly should had done a complete background check on him and the kind of work he did at the former districts he worked for. They just look at the Harvard graduation and were blinded by it and were not able to see beyond that. I am sorry but it is time for him to go, and all the others allow the bullying to continue. How can Skelly take that check and spend it when he let innocent people suffer. Does he have a conscience? Thanks Kent for doing your homework even when you do not get the big paycheck.
Posted by Do it now!, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 7:50 am
PAUSD has violated students'rights re bullying for years, decades even. It is time they paid some restitution. It is long past due for an independent third party to investigate the district, and especially Skelly. He is a failure at his job, and while he may be well-educated, he does not have the necessary set of skills to do the job. Anyone else so bad at a job would lose that job.
Posted by Pamom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 8:30 am
Thanks Mr. Dauber. Great reporting and data. Kevin Skelly is a red hot mess. Charles Young seems like he has a gift for creating legal violations too -- cyclic fibrosis, 2 different OCR investigations, trying to tank the homework time limits, gee whiz. We really do not have the A team down there. I hope we get that investigation and I think that if the board did know they should be recalled.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 8:52 am
I recommend having district executives and Board of Ed members who act with concern for all students in the district. I'm not saying it is easy to do this, but this perspective must be maintained for fairness. I have had the thought at times that the Board was not focusing on the big picture of ALL students. This is a unified district, and I think that should mean something.
For this reason and others, I agree with the ideas of WCDBPA, even though we no longer have students in school, I am still concerned about the welfare and educational experience of local students.
The debacle of approving Mandarin Immersion is a prime example of catering to a select, self-focused group.I thought it appropriate and correct to take action on foreign language programs in a comprehensive way, that would be well worth doing, on behalf of ALL the students in the district, not by throwing everyone else into difficulty.
(School space issues, for example, related to MI or anything else should be a district issue, not something that one group is permitted to inflict on others while they enjoy small class size and select opportunities).
Ecucational equality is very important.
It is a high achieving district by most measures, however I will be blunt here in that I oppose hiring/voting in the Harvard Club, who then educate their kids in this district and gain their admission into Harvard, too, as legacies. It's too Harvard-centric.In reality it's a wide world out there, and I strongly oppose the Harvard-clubbiness as this is a public school district with a variety of persons in and associated with it.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:17 am
One of the side effects of a very school district full of really smart parents and students is a lack of tolerance for anyone less intelligence or capable (like the parents that consider "B" students slackers and losers...) This logically translates into a lack of tolerance for special ed kids, particularly at the already less-than-kind stage of middle school.
Many of the changes that would perhaps better our District for the "regular" kids either won't happen or will be very slow to happen due to the academic success we have achieved. No one at the top wants to rock the boat and potentially bring achievement levels down.
I actually really like Dr. Skelly and think that in general he has done a good job and wants the best for PAUSD kids, BUT he and the BOE need to provide some clear vision in a few area (bullying being one) and a clear DISTRICT WIDE policy for some things. Site based management has its positive sides, but it is clear that it doesn't work in all areas.
Curriculum (which varies from school to school widely) and behavioral expectation should be clear and consistent at every school in the District.
Posted by Jordan mom of 3, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:03 am
overzealous, are you serious? Stop shooting the messenger. Go watch the video of the board meeting. Anyway, who cares whether he was embarrassed because he screwed up or embarrassed because he got caught screwing up or embarrassed because of the bullying problem. We shouldn't have to guess what our highly paid superintendent was embarrassed about screwing up. What about Poway? Was he embarrassed about that? How much is it going to take before we throw this joker overboard? He can't do the job and he's embarrassed about it. I'm sorry he's embarrassed but the Peter Principle is not a life sentence for PAUSD.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm
palo alto mom/Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
You posted about "B" students - I actually think some of those students are doing their own work instead of being prepped in advance by parent-paid tutors, and perhaps some of these "B" students are the genuine ones...
I actually think grades ought to be private matters, instead of subjects for bragging by some students and their parents. Constant one-upmanship is unpleasant and sometimes is even inaccurate (about some students' talents/abilities!) but some are determined to put others down.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:59 pm
Paly Parent - you are probably correct that the "B" students do their own work, I would personally rather have my kids get "B" on their own... Recently I was at a meeting and some of the parents were discussing how the kids the "only get B's" need help and must be slackers. Made me sad.
Posted by Correctimundo, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:10 pm
My son went through his entire primary and secondary education here. I was shocked when, even at the kindergarten level, parents were obviously doing the homework for the kids. By obvious, I mean elementary school kids just do not write that small and stylishly, nor do they dictate that eloquently, nor do they draw that small and accurately.
My son worked very hard on building a motor for a science fair project, and was completely overlooked because of children whose parents obviously did the project for them and wrote about it for them. Basically, these kids get rewarded for cheating, and learn nothing. What message are they getting? My son felt like a failure because he did not cheat!
Posted by Spectator at Large, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm Spectator at Large is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Ken: I reread the article about the board meeting next Tuesday and think it means that Skelly's performance review is closed but that addressing the OCR stuff will be open forum. Am I wrong here? Did the board change their mind about letting the people they serve be in on the discussion about the OCR issues?
Here's the quote from the article:
"Skelly told the Weekly Wednesday that a discussion of the matter would be on the board of education's public agenda next Tuesday night, Feb. 26. A closed session for Skelly's mid-year performance evaluation is also on the agenda."
Posted by Also scared, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:05 pm
Speaking out means your child will be assigned the worst teacher. At my kids' elementary school there are fabulous teachers, but also a few horrible teachers. Guess which kids get the worst teachers? The kids whose parents dare to do anything but smile. I smile until my teeth hurt and my kids have gotten fabulous teachers.
Two parents tried to talk to the District and the principal about food allergies....both kids got the nightmare teacher. Not by chance....and everyone knows it. The District is filled with bullies - and it starts from the top. That's why we need people like the Daubers - their kids are safely in private school so they can say what the rest of us can't. PAUSD needs to expel the toxic administration and start over. I'd sign a petition, but then my child will get the only bad teacher in that grade next year.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:31 am
Count me in, too. How much has our district spent on legal fees and legal services, and have those services gone to protecting the interests of our families and schools, or of Mr. Skelly at the expense of our families?
Is there any way for the Weekly or anyone on the board to determine what advice legal gave Skelly in regards to how to handle special needs students and procedures? That would shed light on why the district has chosen this tack of simply actively avoiding its responsibilities (and thus ultimately violating students civil rights, after putting families through the wringer). If Skelly sought advice to do something illegal, such as actively avoid documenting students' impairments or accommodations, or actively avoiding apprising parents of their rights, are his exchanges with district legal still privileged?
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:37 am
More to the point, should the district be providing legal advice to Skelly at district expense right now, as it may be a conflict of interests for the district, should the district be sued because of such serious violations of the law because of Mr. Skelly's direction? Why should the district be paying for legal services to protect Mr. Skelly rather than the families of the district?
The board should seek new legal immediately, who haven't been involved in overseeing illegal behaviors/offering bad advice, and Drs. Skelly and Young should be put on leave and someone else who doesn't have a conflict of interest put temporarily (perhaps permanently) in their places until this is resolved, so that our leaderships' contacts with legal advice can be done in the interest of the district and without conflicts of interests that would hurt families and open the district to significant liability.
Posted by Alienated, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 3, 2013 at 7:12 am
We need administrators with a higher ethical standard, whose professional values include wanting to work with parents and a belief that their job is to serve families in the district, i.e., it's time to find someone else.
Teachers and even a principal have been let go for far, far less. Shouldn't the superintendent be held at least to the same standard he holds those under him? This is shameful.
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 5, 2013 at 12:32 am
I agree with the original poster that we need a full, fair and transparent investigation into how none of our policies were enforced. The new proposed set of policies is worse than the prior version. This situation is getting no closer to resolution. An investigation is required.